Cleansing the house: clarity

Jesus-money-changers-giottoClarity. 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

Verse 21 makes the second level of meaning of Jesus’ words is now made explicit. The Evangelist tells the reader that Jesus speaks of “the temple of his body.” Since for Judaism the Temple is the locus of God’s presence on earth, v. 21 suggests that Jesus’ body is now the locus of God. Verse 21 recalls 1:51 where the Son of Man replaces Jacob’s ladder as the locus of God’s interaction with the world.

John’s commentary in v. 21 thus interprets the dialogue between Jesus and the Jews, so that the reader can discern the full meaning of Jesus’ words and the nature of the misunderstanding between Jesus and the Jews. The Fourth Evangelist frequently interjects his own voice into the narrative of the Fourth Gospel to provide the reader with insight and information the characters in the stories do not have (e.g., 6:6; 11:13, 51–52; 12:6, 33). Verse 21 enables the reader to see the sign the “Jews” miss: Jesus has the authority to challenge the temple system because he is the locus of God’s presence on earth.

In the light of the Resurrection. Verse 22, like v. 17, focuses on the interpretive witness of the disciples; but unlike v. 17, it explicitly locates their witness after Jesus’ resurrection. It recounts what the disciples “remembered.” In John 14:26, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” In John, remembrance is active reflection on the past in the light of the resurrection with the aid of the Spirit. Such reflection leads to faith and deepened understanding (see 12:16). In 2:22, remembering the past with the aid of the Spirit reveals the truth of Scripture and Jesus’ word in new ways. The combination of Scripture and Jesus’ word in v. 22 shows that the early church began to grant Jesus’ word the same authority it had already granted Scripture.

Verse 22 makes explicit the post-resurrection perspective from which the Gospel was written. Each of the Gospels is written from a post-resurrection perspective, but in John that perspective is intentionally integrated into the Gospel narrative. The distance between the disciples of Jesus in the Gospel stories and the disciples who read the Gospel stories is bridged by v. 22, because this verse points to a time beyond the end of the Fourth Gospel narrative, to a story that gets underway as the Fourth Gospel story draws to a close. Verse 22 points to the interpretive activity of believers as they remember and claim the stories and sayings of Jesus as their own.

Reflection by Gail R. O’Day [545]

John 2:13–22 is popularly interpreted as an example of Jesus’ anger and hence his humanity. Jesus’ actions of taking the whip, herding out the animals, and overturning the tables are pointed to as evidence that Jesus could get angry. Such attempts to amass evidence to prove Jesus’ humanity actually undercut the power of the incarnation, however. To focus on isolated attributes or emotions as proof of Jesus’ humanity is in effect to seek after signs, to base one’s faith on the surface evidence without perceiving the deeper reality. The underlying reality of the Fourth Gospel narrative is that “the Word became flesh” (1:14). Jesus’ humanity thus pervades everything he says and does in his ministry. The scandal of John 2:13–22 is not Jesus’ anger as proof of his humanity, but the authority this human being claims for himself through his words and actions.

Jesus, a complete outsider to the power structure of the Temple, issues a challenge to the authority of the Temple that quite literally shakes its foundations. Jesus throws the mechanics of temple worship into chaos, disrupting the temple system during one of the most significant feasts of the year so that neither sacrifices nor tithes could be offered that day. It is no wonder that the Jews who were gathered at the Temple asked for a sign to warrant his actions (2:18). Jesus was a human being just as they were; who was he to derail their worship?

Jesus explains his actions in the Temple by pointing to his death and resurrection (2:19–21). Jesus has the authority to challenge the authority of the Temple because his whole life bears testimony to the power of God in the world. John 2:13–22 is not about how Jesus’ anger makes him like other people; instead, Jesus’ bold, prophetic act in the Temple reinforces what 1:19–51 and 2:1–11 have already shown: There will be nothing hidden about Jesus’ identity in John. Jesus is the locus of God’s presence on earth, and God as known in Jesus, not the Temple, should be the focal point of cultic activity.

The far-reaching implications of Jesus’ complaint and his actions in the Temple should caution the interpreter against advocating a one-dimensional theory of the superiority of Christianity over Judaism when expositing this text. Jesus is not against Judaism per se. John presents Jesus as an observant Jewish male who travels to Jerusalem at the pilgrimage feasts (2:13; 5:1; 7:10; 12:2). Jesus’ challenge to the authority of the dominant religious institution in Judaism is not anti-Jewish, because it is in line with the institutional challenges of prophets like Amos and Jeremiah. Jesus challenges a religious system so embedded in its own rules and practices that it is no longer open to a fresh revelation from God, a temptation that exists for contemporary Christianity as well as for the Judaism of Jesus’ day.

Jesus’ dramatic actions in 2:13–16, through which he issued a radical challenge to the authority of the religious institutions of his day, issue a similar challenge to the institutionalism of the contemporary church. Christian faith communities must be willing to ask where and when the status quo of religious practices and institutions has been absolutized and, therefore, closed to the possibility of reformation, change, and renewal. The great danger is that the contemporary church, like the leaders of the religious establishment in the Gospel of John, will fall into the trap of equating the authority of its own institutions with the presence of God. All religious institutional embeddedness—whether in the form of temple worship, unjust social systems, or repressive religious practices—is challenged by the revelation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Sources

  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007).
  • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29a in The Anchor Bible, eds. William Albright and David Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966)
  • Neal M. Flanagan, “John” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989)
  • Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003)
  • Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, vol. 4 in Sacra Pagina, Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998)
  • John J. McPolin, John, vol. 6 of the New Testament Message, eds. Wilfred Harrington and Donald Senior (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989)
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996)

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
  • David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996), Harold Remus, Miracle (NT), 4:856-70

Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 at www.usccb.org/bible/index.shtml

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